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World Music CD Reviews Africa

Jean-Jacques Avenel

By Paul-Emile Comeau
Published August 1, 2005

Waraba
Songlines

Jean-Jacques Avenel, who started his career as a professional musician in the early ’70s, became Steve Lacy’s regular bassist in 1981. Along the way he developed an interest in African music, most especially in Manding music, and in 1985 made his first attempt at blending the double bass with the thumb piano and the kora. Waraba, the name of Avenel’s Parisian-based group and of its debut, features Malian and Gambian bandmates playing kora, balafon, n’goni and flutes. The combination of Avenel’s double bass with very able musicians who have played with Salif Keita, Mory Kanté and Manu Dibango makes for a unique sound, one that is strongly based on tradition and improvisation while open to new sonic colors and feelings. There’s a sweet and sometimes even joyful quality to the music, half of which is based on traditional melodies and half-written by band members. The musicians perform with great skill and grace and the music, recorded with state of the art recording technology, is so replete with nuances and complexity.